Australias Relationship with Japan

The main themes in Australias relationship with Japan during the Twentieth Century.

24th April 2009

Most of the world’s largest bilateral commercial relationships are between countries that are geographic neighbors; they often share a common cultural, political or legal heritage, have former colonial ties and/or are partners in a preferential trade agreement (DFAT 2008) None of these ideals explain the link that exists between Australia and Japan, and yet the commercial relationship between them has been and remains strong and vital to the economic fortunes of both countries.

With the exception of the first decade of the twentieth century during which a multitude of events shaped the generally unpopular image of Japan held by many Australians at the time, it would seem that Australia and Japan were bound to become natural partners in the Asia-Pacific. Their cooperation now extends across an extraordinary range of activities and has benefited both countries from a strong and complementary economic relationship. People in Australia and Japan have over time successfully established a warm friendship and an active interaction that exists on many levels, between the two countries. The trade and diplomatic relationships that currently exist between Australia and Japan have, during the twentieth century, developed considerably. Even during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to a number of Australians and Japanese alike this would have appeared to be an obvious pattern of progression to follow. However, Japans suspicion and distrust of Australia symbolized by the White Australia Policy and the Australian perception that Japan had imperial ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region imposed a negative affect on this relationship until after World War II (Chiew Jing Wen). Most of the tensions that existed were, however, the result of two vastly differing cultures failing to achieve a common understanding (DFAT 2008). During the post-war era, “rapid development of Japan’s relations with Australia was based on mutually complementary trade links created with the signing of The Agreement on Commerce between the Commonwealth of Australia and Japan, signed in 1957, was a successful example of a traditional bilateral agreement. Such traditional agreements focused on reducing the impact of or removing the administrative barriers that made commerce expensive and/or difficult, or even prohibited it. The Agreement on Commerce did just that:

“it led to the removal of the restrictions that had disrupted trade since the 1930s. It provided a more certain and secure framework for firms to do business, and began a new phase in commercial links. It increased the pace at which commercial ties developed. The changes in rules, together with the public signal in both countries that such ties were welcome, both contributed to this expansion (DFAT 2008).

Since then, the relationship has expanded to economic activities, politics, culture and various other fields. (MOFA 2009) The existing but once unstable Australia-Japan relationship has transformed into a very good and highly profitable economic partnership. The increased trading and commercial ties that have emerged have continued to nurture this change. As trusted partners in the Asia Pacific region, Japan and Australia share a common interest in regional stability and prosperity.

Within the Asia-Pacific area Australia and Japan were among the first countries to promote the concept of closer regional economic cooperation and trade liberalization, an arrangement witch led to the eventual formulation of APEC (Terada 1998). In 2008, A Joint Statement by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of Japan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia on “Comprehensive Strategic, Security and Economic Partnership” was released. During this statement the Prime Minister reaffirmed not only the importance of the relationship that Japan and Australia share but also, Australia’s shared view that APEC is of central importance. Both Prime ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to strengthening APEC as one of the primary regional institutions and noted the contribution APEC could make to regional economic integration (MOFA 2008).

Australia also welcomed Japan’s “Invitation Programmed for Future Business Counterparts from Australia,” under the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth (JENESYS) program that endeavors to build stronger business links between the two countries. “The aim of this unique program is to invite young professionals from Australia to increase their understanding of Japan through lectures on Japan’s business trends, its major industries, the bilateral relationship, and through discussions with young Japanese professionals. Global environmental protection measures taken by Japanese corporations will be covered in a cross-sectoral manner as well” (MOFA 2009). This Invitation Program will be held this year from June 24 to July 4 in Japan.

While further enhancing economic relations with the Asian arena, Australia has also undertaken to transform its industrial products and service trade into key attributes of its export market, and making a gradual shift from the earlier and more stereotypical view of its dependency on the more traditional resource and primary industry trade items (Stonham 1967). As progression further into the twenty-first century is made, it is expected that, economic relations between Japan and Australia will likely need to extend into new fields, such as cooperation in the IT industry and investment exchanges between the two countries (DFAT 2008) In time, it may also be necessary to entreat further cooperation between Japan and Australia grounded in the discussion of broader viewpoints, such as the progression toward establishing a free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region and greater cooperation within APEC (APEC 2008).

Japan, to this day, remains intrinsically important to Australia as an economic partner. Australia-Japan economic relations will, in the future, likely depend on the ability of both governments, being prepared, to advance their current rate of economic and financial reform in order to maintain the stability that they have ,now, for so long enjoyed (UNCTAD 2009). Japan commands a prominent strategic position in North East Asia and continues to play a primary economic and political role in the region. Australia consistently endeavors to encourage close relations with Japan on a wide array of key economic, political and strategic issues and the development, as often as possible, of policies which are mutually beneficial. Japan continued until 2007 to be Australia’s major trading partner, accounting for approximately $54.5 billion of Australia total trade (exports plus imports). 2008 saw China take a leading role in the trade arena but as commented by Simon Crean “Japan continues to have a special significance as an Australian trading partner, reflecting the importance of political, strategic, trade and economic links our two countries have developed over 50 years” (Crean 2008). Japan is also recognized as a significant investor in Australia and one of the largest sources of tourism income.

Australia’s partnership with Japan can be seen to reflect the broad alignment of Australian and Japanese strategic, political and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region (Sullivan 1998). The Australia-Japan Conference for the 21st century was held in Sydney on 29th and 30th April 2001. At the Conference, experts in various fields from Japan and Australia exchanged views on the future of Japan-Australia relations in the 21st century. “The objective of the Conference was for the governments of Japan and Australia, business, media and academic circles, and other groups to seek out means to enhance cooperation in political, security, economic, cultural and social areas” (MOFA 2001).

Perhaps as a result of their distinctive locations at the northern and southern points of East Asia, Australia and Japan have a shared sense of concern, responsibility and opportunity within the Asia-Pacific region. Australia and Japan frequently endeavor to build on these common interests by strengthening their bilateral dialogue, and by focusing on ways, jointly, to enhance regional security. This dialogue often covers region-wide issues such as the role that the US plays in the region; sub-regional issues like East Timor and the Korean Peninsula as well as transnational issues, for example international crime and food security. Both countries, Australia and Japan, want the United States to remain engaged in the region, and to see China integrated as a constructive regional partner.

During the past 20 years, education has also become an area of enriched exchange . The study of Japanese language in Australia has flourished. As of 2003 there were almost 400 formal agreements between Japanese and Australian academic institutions (OECD 2004), 76% of which include research and academic exchanges (Australian Studies Center).
In 1976, the Australian Government under the Australia-Japan Foundation Act established the Australia-Japan Foundation, with the broad objective of strengthening the Australia-Japan relationship across a broad range of sectors including, education, culture and business (DFAT). Since its establishment in 1976, the Australia-Japan Foundation has been at the center of cultural and education promotion, and the enhancement of other ties between Australia and Japan. They achieve this by developing targeted programs and activities which are aligned with its strategic objectives. , which are to:

i. increase understanding in Japan of shared interests with Australia;
ii. increase understanding in Australia of the importance of Japan to Australia as an economic and strategic partner; and
iii. increase recognition in Japan of Australian excellence and expertise.

(Australia Japan Foundation)

Australia and Japan are natural partners in the Asia Pacific. Their cooperation extends across an extraordinary field of activities which is continuously changing and growing. As a direct result, both countries have benefited from a strong and equally gratuitous economic, social and political relationship. People in Australia and Japan have successfully established a warm friendship, generating active interaction at many levels between the two countries. Australia and Japan share a long-standing relationship characterized by strong trade and investment ties, close cooperation on regional, sub regional and global issues as well as interpersonal links. They have enjoyed tremendous relations at the Government level for a long period based on strong and mutually prosperous trading arrangements. The relationship developed more quickly in the latter half of the twentieth Century encompassing all areas of government and business and is continuing to develop in new areas, including e-commerce, services, competition policy, trade facilitation and expanded regional cooperation in response to the economic and social changes underway in both countries and the region itself.

Appendix 1

In the first decade of the twentieth century, several extraordinary events occurred in the Pacific Region – events which, while not directly involving Australia, were seen to have an impact on the Australian attitudes towards Japan. Previous studies have concluded that the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 had an enormously positive effect on Australian perceptions of Japan. Australian public opinion was overwhelmingly in favor of the Japanese, who were seen as being ‘engaged in a heroic resistance to Russian encroachment’. That the Japanese Consul in Sydney, as well as Burns, Philp, and Company – agents of the Japan Mail Steamship Company (Nippon Yusen Kaisha, or, more commonly, N.Y.K.) – found it necessary to discourage Australian would-be volunteers with the announcement that despite the ‘large number of applications … being daily received … there is no possible chance of any officers or men being allowed to join the Japanese forces other than Japanese,’ illustrates the extent to which Australian sympathies lay with Japan. The warm welcome extended to the Training Japanese Naval Squadron upon its visit to Australian waters in 1906 bears ample witness to the nature of Australian sentiments immediately following the battle. From this point on, however, the literature has claimed unanimously that Australian attitudes towards Japan rapidly became negative. A number of explanations have been advanced for this shift. D.C.S. Sissons proposed the Russo-Japanese War as the source of both positive and negative sentiments towards Japan, with the negative feelings not assuming predominance until some time after the war, although he gave no convincing argument as to why this ‘delayed reaction’ should have occurred. A.T. Yarwood suggested that the cause of the sudden escalation in anti-Japanese attitudes in Australia was a result of the fear aroused by the threat of war between Japan and the United States in 1906 and into 1907, over the so-called California School Board Crisis. Yarwood claimed that Australians felt that the racial tensions behind the conflict were ominous for an Australia that had only recently introduced an Alien Restriction Act, a view with which both Takeda and Walker concurred. While agreeing with Yarwood’s ‘racial’ explanation of a reportedly Australia-wide anti-Japanese mood, Neville Meaney added depth to the argument by including Britain’s withdrawal of naval forces from the Pacific, rumors of a collapse of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1910–11 as all contributing to increasingly negative attitudes towards Japan.
Source: McInnes, B. (2006)

Appendix 2

The history
The origins of the ‘White Australia’ policy can be traced to the 1850s. White miners’ resentment towards industrious Chinese diggers culminated in violence on the Buckland River in Victoria, and at Lambing Flat (now Young) in New South Wales. The governments of these two colonies introduced restrictions on Chinese immigration.
Later, it was the turn of hard-working indentured laborers from the South Sea Islands of the Pacific (known as ‘kanakas’) in northern Queensland. Factory workers in the south became vehemently opposed to all forms of immigration, which might threaten their jobs – particularly by non-white people who they thought would accept a lower standard of living and work for lower wages.
Some influential Queenslanders felt that the colony would be excluded from the forthcoming Federation if the ‘kanaka’ trade did not cease. Leading NSW and Victorian politicians warned there would be no place for ‘Asiatics’ or ‘coloureds’ in the Australia of the future.
In 1901, the new federal government passed an Act ending the employment of Pacific Islanders. The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 received royal assent on 23 December 1901. It was described as an Act ‘to place certain restrictions on immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited immigrants’.
It prohibited from immigration those considered to be insane, anyone likely to become a charge upon the public or upon any public or charitable institution, and any person suffering from an infectious or contagious disease ‘of a loathsome or dangerous character’.
It also prohibited prostitutes, criminals, and anyone under a contract or agreement to perform manual labor within Australia (with some limited exceptions).
Other restrictions included a dictation test, used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test in a language, with which they were not necessarily familiar, nominated by an immigration officer.
With these severe measures the implementation of the ‘White Australia’ policy was warmly applauded in most sections of the community.
In 1919 the Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes, hailed it as ‘the greatest thing we have achieved’.

Second World War
After the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, Prime Minister John Curtin reinforced the philosophy of the ‘White Australia’ policy, saying ‘ this country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race’.
During World War II, many non-white refugees entered Australia. Most left voluntarily at the end of the war, but many had married Australians and wanted to stay. Arthur Calwell, the first immigration minister, sought to deport them, arousing much protest.
Minister Holt’s decision in 1949 to allow 800 non-European refugees to stay, and Japanese war brides to be admitted, was the first step towards a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
The next major step
The next major step was in 1957 when non-Europeans with 15 years residence in Australia were allowed to become Australian citizens.
The revised Migration Act of 1958 introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test.
The revised Act avoided references to questions of race. Indeed, it was in this context that the Minister for Immigration, Sir Alexander Downer, stated that ‘distinguished and highly qualified Asians’ might immigrate.
After a review of the non-European policy in March 1966, Immigration Minister Hubert Opperman announced applications for migration would be accepted from well-qualified people on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia.
At the same time, the government decided a number of ‘temporary resident’ non-Europeans, who were not required to leave Australia, could become permanent residents and citizens after five years (the same as for Europeans).
The government also eased restrictions on immigration of non-Europeans. The criterion of ‘distinguished and highly qualified’ was replaced by the criterion of ‘well qualified’ non-Europeans, and the number of non-Europeans allowed to immigrate would be ‘somewhat greater than previously’.

A watershed
The March 1966 announcement was the watershed in abolishing the ‘White Australia’ policy, and non-European migration began to increase. Yearly non-European settler arrivals rose from 746 in 1966 to 2,696 in 1971, while yearly part-European settler arrivals rose from 1,498 to 6,054.
In 1973 the Whitlam Labor government took three further steps in the gradual process to remove race as a factor in Australia’s immigration policies.

Sourced from:
Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Appendix 3

History of Japan-Australia Exchange VIP Visits

1897 Japanese consulate established in Sydney.
1947 Australian embassy established in Tokyo.
1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty signed by Australia.
1952 Australian embassy established in Tokyo.
1953 Japanese embassy established in Australia.
1957 First visit to Japan by an Australian Prime Minister (Robert Menzies).
1957 First visit to Australia by a Japanese Prime Minister (Nobusuke Kishi).
1957 Agreement on Commerce between Japan and the Commonwealth of Australia signed.
1968 Agreement on Fisheries between the Government of Japan and the Government of Australia signed.
1970 Agreement between Japan and the Commonwealth of Australia for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income signed.
1972 Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of Australia for Co-operation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy signed.
1974 Cultural Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of Australia signed.
1976 Basic Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation between Japan and Australia signed.
1995 Joint Declaration on the Australia-Japan Partnership.
1997 Japan-Australia Partnership Agenda.
· 2006 Australia-Japan Year of Exchange (Embassy of Japan in Australia Web Site)

VIP Visits
From Australia to Japan
Year Name
1957 Prime Minister Robert Menzies
1970 Prime Minister John Gorton
1973 Prime Minister Edward Whitlam
1976, 1978, 1980, 1982 Prime Minister John Fraser
1984, 1986, 1987, 1990 Prime Minister Robert Hawke
1992, 1994, 1995 Prime Minister Paul Keating
1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 Prime Minister John Howard

From Japan to Australia
Year Name
1957 Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi
1963 Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda
1967 Prime Minister Eisaku Sato
1971 Prince and Princess Mikasa (international conference)
1971-73 Prince Katsura (study)
1973 The Crown Prince and Crown Princess (the current Emperor and Empress) (goodwill visit)
1974 Prince Naruhito (the current Crown Prince) (tour)
1974 Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka
1980 Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira
1982 Prince Katsura (tenth anniversary of establishment of the Australia Japan Society)
1985 Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone
1988 Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita
1992 Princess Sayako (tour)
1993 Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa
1993 Prince and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa (discussions about educational assistance for children with hearing or sight impairments)
1994 Princess Tomohito of Mikasa and Prince Katsura (charity event to provide educational assistance for children with hearing or sight impairments)
1995 Prince and Princess Akishino (official visit)
1997 Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
2002 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi

Source MOFA

Appendix 4

Japan and Australia signed a cultural agreement in 1974, and the two countries have been conducting various cultural exchanges, primarily through the Japan Foundation, which has a cultural center in Sydney, and the Australia-Japan Foundation. In addition to exchange activities involving scholars, teachers, students, researchers, artists, athletes, journalists, and others, there has also been a steady flow of exhibitions and lectures.
(1) Youth Exchange
There is considerable youth exchange between Japan and Australia. Each year Japan accepts about 100 young Australians as government-funded students. Each year, several hundred university and high school students participate in exchange missions sponsored by Rotary and other organizations.
(2) The JET Program
A total of 1,900 Australians have worked as Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) or Coordinators for International Relations (CIR) under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, which is a joint project run by the Japanese Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Education and local government bodies. These people are helping to enhance English-language education and foster international exchange at the regional level throughout Japan. They are also making a major contribution to the promotion of friendly relations between Japan and Australia.
(3) Sister Cities
Friendship agreements have been formed between cities, ports, states and broadcast stations in Australia and Japan. At present, there are 85 sister-city affiliations, six sister-port relationships and six sister-state relationships, as well as 11 sister relationships between broadcast stations.
(4) Japan Studies
Research relating to Japan is carried out at 37 universities in Australia. The range of research activities has expanded to include not only the humanities (the Japanese language, Japanese culture, history, etc.) but also practical and business-related fields, such as Japanese politics, economics, business and law. The Japan Studies Association of Australia (founded in 1979) is very active. Every second year it holds a symposium that attracts participants throughout Australia.

Source MOFA


Australia Studies Center Online,

Center for Education Research and Innovation. 2004 Internationalization and Trade in Higher Education, OECD Publishing, p 194

Chiew Jing Wen, ‘ESSAY CRITIQUE: Symbol of Imperial Defense: The role of Singapore in British and American Far Eastern Strategic Relations, 1933-1941 by Greg Kennedy NUS History Society E-Journal,

Crean, S. MP, 2008 May, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, (DFAT) Trade Figures Confirm China and Japan as Top Trade Partners,

Mc Innes, B. 2006, Assessing Australian Attitudes to Japan in the Early Twentieth Century – A New Approach, New
Voices Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Australia–Japan Relationship, Volume 1, December 2006, Japan Foundation Sydney,

Stonham, P.E. ‘Australia’s changing export pattern’, Intereconomics, Volume 2, Number 12, p. 321-323.

Terada, T. 1998, ‘The origins of Japan’s APEC policy: Foreign Minister Takeo Miki’s Asia-Pacific policy and current implications’ , Australia-Japan Research Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, The Pacific Review, Volume 11, Issue 3 1998 , pages 337 – 363

United Nations, 2009, United nations conference on trade and development, (UNCTAD ) ‘The global economic crisis: Systematic failures and multilateral remedies’ Report by UNCTAD Secretariat task force on systematic issues and economic cooperation,

1998, ‘Australia’s Key Asia-pacific Relationships: Continuity and Change’ (Speech) Delivered by The Hon Kathy Sullivan MP on 28/3/1998

2008, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, (DFAT), Australia and Japan – How distance and complementarity shape a remarkable commercial relationship, Chapter 1, WHH Publishing Printed in Australia by Blue Star,

2008, March, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), International Exchanges Division, JICE, JENESYS Program, ‘General Information on the Invitation Program for FUTURE BUSINESS COUNTERPARTS From Australia’,

2008, June, Press Release, ‘Future Business Counterparts Program for Young Australian Professionals 2008’

2008, ‘Enduring Friends, Enduring Economic Partners’, Speech, Delivered by The Hon Kevin Rudd MP to Japan-Australian Business Co-operation committee, on 11/6/2008

2008, November 22-23, Sixteenth APEC Economic Leaders Meeting “A New Commitment to Asia-Pacific Development” Lima, Peru,

2009, February, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), ‘Invitation Program for FUTURE BUSINESS COUNTERPARTS from Australia’,
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) ‘Australia-Japan Foundation’, Grant Links,

Australia-Japan Foundation Homepage, Australian Government,


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